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10 Powerful Questions in a Checklist to Save Your Projects


The CHAOS Reports have been published every year since 1994 and are a snapshot of the state of the software development industry. The Standish Group 2015 Chaos Report studied 50,000 projects around the world, ranging from small enhancements to massive systems implementations. It revealed that 29% of the projects were successful, 52% were challenged, and 19% failed.

Successful projects were defined as projects that were completed on time, on budget, with a satisfactory result. If a project failed to meet one or more of these outcomes, it was a challenged project. If you have a project in the challenged category headed toward the wasteland of failed projects, let’s see if we can save it. Here are ten questions to help you determine things that may be causing harm to your projects:

  1. What are your goals? If I was an enemy of your project, the first thing I would do is make your goals fuzzy and ambiguous. This strategy is certain to create frustration, division, and lots of rework. I’m not your enemy—dust off that binder with your project goals, review them, and make them clear.
  2. Who are your stakeholders? Warren Bennis said, “Find the appropriate balance of competing claims by various groups of stakeholders. All claims deserve consideration but some claims are more important than others.” Who are the individuals, groups, or organizations that may impact or be impacted by your project in a positive or negative manner? Which ones have the highest power and interest?
  3. What are your stakeholders’ interests and concerns? It is critical to analyze the stakeholders in order to understand their needs as well as their concerns. What keeps them awake at night? What do they think may hinder the progress of the project?
  4. What are the most significant constraints? Constraints are limiting factors such as budget, imposed dates, resource limitations, or contractual constraints. What can you do to reduce or overcome these restrictions? The Theory of Constraints is a methodology for identifying the most limiting factor that hinders your ability to achieve your goals and then systematically improving that constraint until it is no longer the limiting factor.
  5. What are your assumptions? Listen to this definition of an assumption—a factor that is considered to be true, real, or certain without proof or demonstration. Wow! Many project managers lead their projects for long periods under the wrong assumptions. Put your assumptions under a lie detection test. What was the source for the assumption? What basis do we have of thinking the assumption is true? Has anything changed?
  6. What are your most significant risks? Think of the 80/20 rule: 80% of your project results come from 20% of your project inputs. One hour spent on a project may be worth $10,000; another hour may be worth $20. What are the few activities that are producing greatest value? Do more of these activities and get rid of the wasteful activities.
  7. How will you do the work? The order in which you execute the project activities matters. Will you use a waterfall approach or an agile approach? Are there activities you can fast-track or crash?
  8. How will you handle project changes? Most projects, whether small or large, have changes. When someone asks for a major change to the requirements, do you say yes and hope for the best? The project manager’s job is not to prevent changes; her job is to make sure that changes are properly analyzed, agreed to, and managed through a transparent change process.
  9. What motivates your team? Read the book The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz. You’ll find great insight on how to get your teams working together for the common good.
  10. How can you celebrate milestones? If your teams are working hard and meeting milestones, I encourage you to find ways to thank them and celebrate. It does not have to be elaborate or costly. Your team members will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

The best project managers take proactive measures to start and maintain healthy projects. Consider using this checklist as you start your projects to aid you in your planning. Remember the 5 Ps: Proper planning prevents poor performance.


Good news, cherished AITS readers! Harry has written a new book outlining 10 things successful project managers never tolerate: The Intentional Project Manager

And for more brilliant insights, check out Harry’s blog: The Project Risk Coach

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